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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Vote to Re-Elect Bush? Well…..No Thanks

Voters are less and less interested in re-electing President Bush. Check out these recent figures. The Zogby poll has just 40 percent saying he deserves re-election and 52 percent saying it’s time for someone new–a 12 point deficit for Bush, 9 points worse than he fared in mid-August. In the Ipsos/Cook Political Report poll, only 38 percent are willing to say they would definitely vote to re-elect Bush, while 36 percent would definitely vote for someone else and 24 percent would consider someone else. And, in the latest CNN/Time poll, a shockingly low 29 percent say they would definitely vote for Bush in ‘04, compared to 41 percent who say they would definitely vote against him (25 percent might vote for or against).
Why are voters losing enthusiasm for the President who, not so long ago, seemed politically invincible? It’s pretty simple. They think the economy is doing badly, the situation in Iraq is deteriorating and the country overall is in going in the wrong direction. Given this, American voters’ pragmatism (go with what works; reject what doesn’t) is now leading them away from Bush and making them less willing to cut him slack, simply because he performed well right after September 11.
Take the direction of the country. The latest Democracy Corps poll has only 36 percent of likely voters saying the country is going in the right direction, while 54 percent say it is off on the wrong track (59 percent of independents). That 18 point gap between right direction and wrong track is triple the gap observed by the Democracy Corps in late July.
Take the economy. It should come as no surprise people are dissatisfied, given the most recent Labor Department jobs report that showed the economy shedding 93,000 jobs in August, 437,000 short of the administration’s own projections for the month. The economy has lost 2.7 million jobs since Bush took office, 600,000 since the beginning of the year and 225,000 since the Bush’s latest tax cut package was passed in late May. (The basic facts are in the invaluable Job Watch feature from the Economic Policy Institute, which DR highly recommends.)
No wonder that 55 percent now say they want to go in a different direction on the economy, compared to 39 percent who want to continue in Bush’s direction. And no wonder that voters now favor the Democrats over the Republicans on the economy by a healthy 15 points.
Take the situation in Iraq and national security. While Bush still retains a significant advantage on general national security concerns, even that advantage is eroding rapidly. For example, the Republicans famously had a 40 point advantage over the Democrats in November, 2002 on the issue of keeping America strong. That’s largely why they did so well in the ‘02 election. But now that advantage has more than cut in half, down to 16 points. Intriguingly, this is exactly the same Republican advantage registered by a Democracy Corps poll right before 9/11.
And when it comes to foreign policy, the Democrats have not only made gains, they are approaching parity. The Republican advantage over the Democrats on foreign policy is now only 6 points and it is dead even between continuing in Bush’s direction on foreign policy or going in a significantly different direction. It is also about even between continuing in Bush’s direction on foreign policy or going in a different direction on respect for the US in the world and close to even (4 point Bush advantage) on relations with countries around the world. And on the specific issue of Iraq, where Bush’s policies once commanded such high support, there is now a large group of Americans (41 percent) who would prefer to go in a different direction, rather than stay the course with Bush.
Of course, the Democrats still have much work to do in the national security area to make their critique stick (for example, by 30 points, voters say they want to continue in Bush’s direction on fully funding homeland security, despite the well-documented fact that this area has been dramatically underfunded by the administration). In this regard, the Democracy Corps memo, “Passing the National Security Threshhold“, has much useful advice for Democrats. But DR has said for a long time that if the Democrats could cut the GOP’s advantage on national security in half and open up a substantial lead on the economy, they had an excellent chance of knocking off Bush in ‘04. Well, we’re there.